Friday, May 27, 2011

The Not-So-Very-Mysterious Life of a Grain of Yeast: Quest for Perfection

       The Not-So-Very Mysterious Life of a Grain of Yeast:
                               Quest for Perfection                                            

       So, I got it into my head that I would tell the story of the life of a grain of yeast, and that in order to do so I would need to actually measure a grain. Not overly clear about what I’d be measuring exactly: its size, its height, weight, mass, density, hardness of outer casing (whatever that may be), permeability (because a 6 syllable word is always fun), color, reflectivity, its very yeastness.
   Fact is, it doesn’t have much of any of that. Except, perhaps, the yeastness bit. Other fact is, I lack any nano devices able to examine objects so amazingly small. I attempted to weigh one teensy gram of instant yeast on a glass-topped baking scale. One gram is, for certain, the smallest unit of anything you or I will ever need to measure out for any purpose in our lives.
   Ever peep a grain of yeast? It’s the color of a single camel hair, bleached by the sun. Not bright, just camel. Bleached. I’ve now poured some into a mini-baking cup, the very small ones I use for Chocolate Cheesecake bites. I’m thinking I might have one- tenth of a gram. Maybe. And in that ten percent of a gram you can see quantities, such that thoughts roaming toward the countless grains-of-sand on the beach, or stars- in- the- universe kind of hyperbole  seem not at all perverse.
   Oh, smell! Nearly forgot to scrutinize the smell! It’s basically, discernibly, yeasty. If you’re unfamiliar, $2.39 will getcha some, instant, in a vacuum-sealed bag at Smart n’ Final. It’s a pleasing smell, wholesome, rich, promising. Just don’t snort it.
   So, there they sit, scribillions of the bitsy suckers, at the bottom of the cup, gazing up at me, as might the countless denizens of an infinitesimally small world, staring in awe at the reigning demi-god, not at all sure where they’re headed.
   And of course, you have, this very second, said,” Pshaw”, or your personal equivalent, to proclaim your disbelief that you just read that yeast might feel, and perhaps, express, concerns about their immediate future(s).  
   But are we not examining the life of a grain of yeast? And is not one of the most telling qualities of life the ability to reflect, to some degree, upon one’s own existence. So, for the purpose of this happy reflection, we shall, henceforth, accept as indubitable truth, that this single, singular, miniscule grain of yeast, can reason and reflect!
   Upon what, you may, and should, well inquire, might this insignificant living entity dwell? What deep thoughts waft through its reflective pools of contemplation?
   It would, in the truest Dulce et Decorum mode, seem only sweet and fitting for our little yeastling, whom we shall call by his given name, Kor, to undertake deepest thought and ultimately to surrender his life to his raison de etre, the creation of the Kwisatz Haderach , the ultimate, the finality, the uber bread!
   Basically, yeast, including Kor, do for bread what money and sexual conquest do for the human ego: puff it way the hell up!
   Yeast, when properly handled and used, acting as a leavener, causes a bread to rise, becoming in short time, an object of olfactory and culinary delight. When improperly employed, or when heated beyond 125 degrees, or when cooled to the point of dormancy, or when tainted by direct contact with salt, when any or all of these, or other, adverse conditions come into the mix, yeast will fail to leaven the bread.
   Little Kor knows this instinctively, with a deep intuitive wisdom, passed down from matriarchal ancestors for untold millennia. (A deeper examination of yeast genetics and heraldic coats of arms may someday appear in a further scientifically and historically mangled accounting).  Pretty much any damned thing could royally screw up his mission, so he undertakes to be THE most effective, leaven-producing yeast unit in the only way he can imagine.
   He allows the other yeastlings in the mix to get themselves all stirred up, moving in a near-violent swarm, burrowing deep into the flour as it begins to glutenize, or frothing mightily in the tepid water to bloom, like brown pond scum bobbing upon the surface of the water in the mixing bowl.
   These energetic yeast, he full-well knows, will soon expire from their frantic exertions, rendering them incapable of exhaling their potent, gluten-expanding, air pocket- creating breath into the loaf.    
   He sits. Holds back. Waits patiently for his fellow yeasties to fail from their exhaustive labors. HE and he alone will be THE ONE. By dint of HIS prodigious genius and mighty puffy powers shall THIS loaf rise to the never-before-attained status of the KWISATCH HADERACH OF ALL BREADS  EVER!
   The Demi-God, Chef by name, to whom Kor and the other yeastly minions have long bobbed in supplication, now swoops down from above, scooping the shaggy dough deep from within the mixer, to be punched and rounded prior to fermenting.
   Alas, the ferment will take place without our little friend, who, having most successfully held back from the seething, bleached camel haired masses striving for perfection, sits forlornly on the rim of the bowl, having been missed in the heavenly scoop!
   Kor dies ten minutes later, victim of the heat from the bakery’s dishwasher.
   Moral of our narrative: Good shit will not happen if you sit back on your ass waiting and wishing. Not even for a grain of yeast.
   And, you know you counted the syllables earlier!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this! I know a thing or two about yeast, frankly, because of my restaurant experience. But, I don't think I've ever been soooo passionate about it. Now I think I'm gonna have to bake something yeasty!